Could Bioenergy Fuel a Rural Resurgence?

Rural regions could benefit disproportionately from the development of bioenergy, say economists at the University of Missouri. But not without new policies and funding.

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Creating a grid of small energy-production plants that run off biofuels could help rural communities reduce their energy costs and promote economic development, say University of Missouri researchers.

Rural areas are ideal for creating bioenergy production plants, because they are closer to potential fuel sources, such as biomass. Biomass is material produced from living organisms, such as wood or corn.

“Transporting power through power lines to remote, rural areas is very inefficient and can be expensive for farmers and other rural citizens,” said Tom Johnson, a professor at Missouri’s College of Agriculture and the Truman School of Public Affairs, according to a press release.

If rural residents generated their own power and were able to share it via a grid with their neighbors, they could reduce transmission problems and take advantage of the biofuels that are more readily available in the countryside than they are in cities.

“Farmers already have access to a large amount of biomass material left over each year after harvests,” Johnson said. “If they had access to small biomass power plants, they could become close to self-sustaining in terms of power. If the grid was improved enough, they could even provide additional power to other people around the country, helping to stabilize the national power grid. This could help save rural citizens money and be a boon for rural economies.”

Lower energy prices could also make rural areas more attractive to industries, Johnson said.

But creating rural energy grids powered by biofuels won’t happen without new policies and funding.

“This is unlikely to occur without clearly articulated goals coupled with strategic guidance from policy,” Johnson said. “We need an integration of policy and programs among community leaders, rural entrepreneurs and economic developers or practitioners who act as conduits between entrepreneurs and policy. In order to grow this bioeconomy, the goals of these actors need to be aligned.”

Johnson also said expanding bioenergy sustainably would require safeguards to protect renewable resources.

Bioenergy is produced from organic sources, such as biomass. Biomass is material derived from living organisms. It can create energy directly through burning or indirectly by conversion to another fuel such as ethanol. 

 

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